By Miriam Rafery
June 29, 2011 (San Diego)—The California Citizens Redistricting Commission heard input from area residents this month, including some residents of East County and Imperial County who objected to the redrawing of Congressional and state leglsiative district lines to lump the two regions together.
Scott Alevy, chairman of the San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce, noted differences in the geography and economy of the two areas. “You have a mountain range, literally, between us,” he noted.
Other East County residents concurred. “The East County is made up of a number of towns and communities which all have similar attributes that give the East County its special charm,” Lakeside resident Milt Cyphert, co-founder of the East County Community Action Coalition and a board member of the Lakeside Chamber of Commerce, wrote in a letter to the commission. Cyphert noted that East County’s communities share common cultural bonds of rural, equestrian and Western heritage as well as geographical features.
“The East County is a playground for San Diego, with parks, hiking, horse and bike trails and scenic corridors for all to enjoy,” he wrote. “The Imperial Valley is a desert.” He further noted that East County communities have special concerns for fire-fighting and that many East County residents work in San Diego but have little in common with Imperial Valley. He argued that the proposed redistricting could “destroy all that we have done to protect and preserve our unique and cherished way of life by taking away our vote and our voice and giving it to Imperial Valley.”
Some Imperial Valley residents are also upset at being joined with San Diego. Josué Merado, an Ad hoc Border committee member, led a group of residents from Imperial County to San Diego to voice concerns to the commissioners. “We need representatives that know our region, the similarities and the difficulties, to be one voice for those who are too exhausted or tired of not being listened to,” he said, the Imperial Valley Press reported. “Redistricting is about giving a voice to the people.”
One Latino rights group has talked of filing a lawsuit alleging Voting Rights Act violations, contending that the proposed districts along the border region do not provide ample voice for the area’s many Hispanic voters.
Not everyone is displeased. Some members of the La Mesa Foothills Democratic Club and East County Democratic Club have expressed approval at the Commission's proposal to shift portions of La Mesa and El Cajon from Republican Duncan Hunter's district into representation by Democrat Susan Davis, for example, noting that La Mesa now has a slim Democratic majority in voter registration.
This is the first time that redistricting, also called reapportionment, has been handled by a citizens’ group instead of the California Legislature. The Commission is bound by numerous—and sometimes conflicting—rules. One area that has been problematic is that areas in Imperial County do not have enough people to meet the minimum population requirements for Congressional and Legislative districts. Rob Wilcox, communications director, has noted that the problem is particularly thorny with Congressional districts where the population variance between districts is restricted to just one person.
On June 23, the commission announced it will move its release date for a second draft of maps to July 14th in order to have more time to review them before voting to move forward. Districts will be numbered in the second round of maps. In addition, the commission delegated authority to commissioners Blanco and Forbes to work with its chief counsel to recommend a law firm for post-final map litigation.